Brexit and Banking


You will probably have heard that due to a no deal Brexit, many UK banks have decided that they will not be able to continue servicing their customers living in the EEA. This certainly caught my attention as, even though I have lived in Spain for some 30 odd years, I still maintain a UK bank account.

One point to make here before I continue, the UK has granted EU banks the right to continue to do business in the UK but Europe is not reciprocating, thanks for that EU.

To find out more about this I ventured to the UK.Gov website to see what they could tell me. OK, well if their objective was to produce a particularly bland, non informative paragraph on Brexit Exit Banking, they succeeded, and I quote:

“Banking and financial services

Most people living in Europe should not see any change to their banking when the transition period ends (31 December 2020). Whether UK banks can service customers living in an EEA country is a matter of local law and regulation. Also banks are set up differently, and may have taken different actions to continue to serve their customers.

Your bank or finance provider should contact you if they need to make any changes to your product or the way they provide it. If you have any concerns about whether you might be affected, contact your provider or seek independent financial advice.”

Super. So I phoned my UK bank, after being on hold for over 12 minutes, I hung up. Went to the online banking, contacted them via email, after not too long, I received a reply, a standard reply basically telling me to make sure I zero my account before the bank closes it. No date was given as to when closure might occur, basically no information was given as why this was happening, was it an absolute, could things change, nothing, zip, zero, just empty the account. Although, it did advise that if I actually wanted any more information, like duh, I could call on Skype and speak to one of their 24/7 advisers. OK not so bad then……..

I Skype called, received the usual opening gambits, then was put on hold for a further 40 odd minutes, as this was a no charge call, I wasn’t concerned about the time but got bored and hung up. Went back to online banking, found the chat facility, this was efficient and more helpful but the outcome the same, I have to empty my account and it will be closed automatically by the bank.

The bank in question is Barclays and the account was opened by me some 40 years ago. Due to the fact that the account is quite inactive, just used for a few receipts and some direct debits, I never bothered to hook into the online transaction banking service. This now means that I have to write, yes pen to paper and then, shock, horror, put in the post (cannot instruct over the net or via email) to my bank in the UK to instruct them to transfer the balance of funds to a new account. I am going to choose a bank that has a licence to trade in Europe.

The initial email from Barclays told me that I had received a notification about this from my bank, I had not. The online Chatter apologised for this fact and told me that Barclays will be in contact with me but could not tell me when, irritating? yes but not the fault of the Chatter, so I thanked her for her sympathy and left the Chat. To be truthful, it was not too much of a hassle but just time wasting and so inefficient, it is obvious, or seems so to me, that the banking staff have been told to ignore phone and Skype calls.

As I said, for me it was not too much of a hassle but I am a business woman and used to dealing with inept entities and wading through senseless bureaucratic systems, but what if I were not? What if I were a vulnerable and confused pensioner? This is such an insensitive way to treat the bank’s ‘valued’ customers and will lead, I am sure, to much stress and upset being caused quite unnecessarily, if only the banks would communicate with us and actually take an active role in sorting out this mess, things could be handled far more easily and efficiently.

I strongly suggest that if you hold a UK bank account and live here in Spain, you contact your bank immediately to get things moving and, if your UK bank is also of an antediluvian nature, set up a new bank account that will work for you. Good luck with this.

Many will not yet realise that the relatively recent SEPA banking system has enabled a high degree of integration of banks and this link may be useful. Direct debits can now happen internationally. State and other pensions from other countries can be direct credited to Spanish bank accounts. The new online only banks (Revolut, Monzo, Starling, for example) are making high street banks more and more irrelevant and they have EU wide banking licences.

For me my next challenge is going to be tackling RBS with whom I hold a business account, can’t wait….

Thank you for reading and stay and healthy.

Spence Clarke specialises in the provision of Spanish tax, accounts, law and labour services, mainly to foreigners with interests in Spain. Our cross-border knowledge helps clients adapt to the Spanish system with the minimum of doubt and disruption. If you have any questions about this article or any other matter contact us, with no obligation, to see how we can help you.